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Independence Bank eyes loans

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, July 24, 2008) - Executives of the Rhode Island-based Independence Bank offered their financial expertise to the Northern Marianas government, but stressed that it must first identify projects that they can work on.

Robert Catanzaro, the bank’s chief executive officer, and Michael Sammartino, senior vice president/director of business development, met with lawmakers yesterday in the House chamber.

Governor Benigno R. Fitial invited the two to visit Saipan to explore talks about securing loans for various government projects, particularly for the financially troubled Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

Independence Bank was chartered just four years ago. But it has already posted steady growth. In 2007, the bank reported a 29 percent appreciation in its assets to US$368 million.

Catanzaro said their bank is primarily known for assisting entities secure financial help for federally funded projects.

On average, the bank charges a 5 percent interest rate for a loan.

Catanzaro said the CNMI appears to be a "very high priority" for federal grants yet the local government is not able to fully utilize it.

For instance, Catanzaro said the U.S. Department of Agriculture office here informed them there’s US$2 million in unused grants intended for the commonwealth.

He said the community could have benefited from it if the funds were tapped.

The bank executives said the government’s financial crisis is not an obstacle because their terms are flexible.

The bank can extend loans payable up to 40 years with deferred pay on the first year, among other conditions.

Federal grants under the capital improvements projects for the CNMI must be equally matched by local funding.

Catanzaro said their bank work on a combination of grants and loans.

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